SAN DIEGO — The latest case of alleged political corruption in San Diego headed to a federal jury Wednesday after the lead prosecutor and defense attorney disagreed sharply about whether the case was even worthy of action by the United States attorney's office.
The Duke Cunningham case it is not.
The Cunningham case involved bribes of $2.4 million, tax evasion of $1 million, hundreds of millions of dollars in defense contracts and a prison sentence of eight years and four months for a veteran congressman.
Nor is it like the city pension case, in which former pension board members stand charged with finagling pension boosts for themselves while saddling the city with a scheme that has left a $2-billion deficit.
Instead, the case of political consultant Larry Remer involves $5,890.47 that Southwestern College in Chula Vista paid for a TV commercial that was used in the 2000 campaign to persuade voters to endorse an $89-million bond issue for improvements at the community college.
A federal grand jury, at the urging of the U.S. attorney's office, indicted Remer on six felony counts, stemming from a violation of a law that prohibits using public money for a political campaign. The former college president also was indicted and will be tried separately.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John Rice, in his final argument to jurors, struck an almost apologetic note, telling jurors that the small amount of money should not sway their deliberations.
"The key issue is: It's a crime," Rice told the nine-man, three-woman jury. "They did what was dishonest and they didn't want to answer for it."
Defense attorney Michael Pancer said the money was not to pay for the commercial but for 90 minutes of outtakes that the college could use in film classes and maybe for another TV campaign to urge students to enroll.
"Not every dispute in this country belongs in the United States District Court," said Pancer, bringing a strong objection from Rice.
Judge John Houston admonished Pancer not to launch into an argument suggesting that the U.S. attorney's office is being heavy-handed.
The case arose after a Virginia firm that makes TV commercials submitted a bill for $5.890.47 to the campaign committee for Proposition AA after voters had passed the measure.
The committee, run by Remer's firm, was out of cash that had been raised from contributors.
Pancer asserts that rather than not pay the bill, Remer arranged for the Virginia firm to sell the outtakes to the college for the same amount.
But prosecutors allege that was a sham and a way to get around a law that bans public money for political campaigns.
Pancer said Remer had no reason to violate the law since he received none of the money.
Rice countered that Pancer and the college president cooked up the scheme because "it did not seem the least bit risky."